Citizen scientists deliver welcome koala news

The National Parks Association of NSW applauds today’s release of a landmark citizen-science survey of a ‘bearly’ known population of Koalas in Heathcote National Park.  The survey, involving more than 600 hours of field survey by respected local naturalists Steve Anyon-Smith and Tom Kristensen, photographed 32 individual koalas and suggests a total population of a least 100 koalas in Heathcote National Park.

NPA has written to Environment Minister Matt Kean asking for the Heathcote Koalas to be declared as an Asset of Intergenerational Significance.  This is a new legislative measure designed to guarantee the protection of highly significant areas of biodiversity value within protected areas. 

‘We really didn’t expect to find a substantial koala population in a national park with only a handful of historic records’ stated report co-author Steve Anyon-Smith.  ‘Early on we wondered whether it was just a few wanderers from the better known colony near Campbelltown, but once we saw that first female with a joey we knew it was much more’. 

NPA Executive Officer, Gary Dunnett noted ‘The future of koalas hangs in the balance because of continuing habitat loss, development, unsustainable forestry and the devastating impacts of the 2019/20 fires.  This report of breeding koalas right on the doorstop of Sydney should bring a smile to everyone’s face.

‘This report is a testament to the power of citizen science.  The results are only possible because of the hundreds of hours they spent in the field, which has given us a standard of coverage that most researchers could only dream of.  These two citizen scientists have provided the National Parks and Wildlife Service with detailed information worth tens of thousands of dollars at absolutely no cost. 

‘The Heathcote National Park koalas need all the help they can get if they are going to survive into the next century.  They will need protection from disturbance and domestic dogs and keeping their habitat in the best possible ecological condition.  A major challenge will be making sure their habitat trees aren’t damaged by too-frequent fire’. 

‘There is every reason to feel hopeful about the future of the Heathcote koalas, even if they have gone largely unnoticed to date’ Gary Dunnett continued.  ‘The next big challenge is to protect other ‘at risk’ koala populations.  The time has come for the NSW Government to adopt NPA’s proposals for the Upper Georges River National Park in southwest Sydney and the Great Koala National Park on the mid north coast’ Dunnett concluded.  

ENDS

Media Contact: NPA EO, Gary Dunnett: (02) 9299 0000

Copies of the report Anyon-Smith, S. and Kristensen, T (2021) Observed distribution and numbers of Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus in a habitat survey of Heathcote National Park July to September 2021 below

New Koala SEPP Commences in NSW – But Worse is Yet to Come

Cerin Loane, Senior Solicitor, Environmental Defenders Office

This article originally appeared on EDO’s website (edo.org.au) on 8 April 2021 and has been reprinted with permission.

Following its announcement on 8 March 2021 (see our earlier update), the NSW Government has now made State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2021 (Koala SEPP 2021). It commenced on 17 March 2021, while Koala SEPP 2020 continues to apply to some rural zones.  

Koala Protection in NSW: how our most valued native animal is abused

Gary Dunnett, Executive Officer, NPA NSW

The koala populations of NSW were decimated during the first quarter of the 20th century by commercial hunting for the fur trade.  Many local populations were pushed towards or into extinction.  We’re now nearly a hundred years since the peak of commercial hunting and many areas, especially in the south-eastern corner of the State, remain largely bereft of koalas.  In other places, especially those with limited accessibility, such as the military lands in southwestern Sydney and the dense forests of the northeast, koala populations staged major recoveries after the cessation of commercial harvesting.   

Unfortunately, that recovery had largely come to an end by the 1970s as habitat loss from coastal development, agricultural clearing and forestry, along with increasing mortality due to collisions with motor vehicles, dog attacks and infectious diseases, all took their toll on local koala populations.  The result is that, as we approached 2021, the NSW Upper House Inquiry into the future of koalas in NSW concluded that, without significant change in the way we protect koalas and their habitats, the species will become functionally extinct (ie incapable of maintaining viable local populations) in NSW within the next 50 years.  

Loss of an Icon

Patricia Durman, NPA Macarthur Branch

According to a 2015 report by the Australian Koala Foundation, there were only 87,000 (1% of the original population killed for the pelts) left across Australia. They go on to say that up to 8 million were killed for their pelts before 1927 when the practice was banned across the country.

National Party’s war on Koalas escalates

The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) has expressed outrage at documents published by the ABC showing direct intervention by NSW National Party Leader, John Barilaro through the Regional NSW Department to allow logging back into forests heavily impacted by the bushfires.